Sunday, June 25, 2017

What does it mean to deny Christ? There is, of course, an outright, direct denial of Christ in those who claim God does not exist or that Jesus was just a man, but there is more to it I think. (Click the link to read more)

Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 94
JER 20:10-13
PS 69:8-10, 14, 17, 33-35
ROM 5:12-15
MT 10:26-33

What does it mean to deny Christ?  There is, of course, an outright, direct denial of Christ in those who claim God does not exist or that Jesus was just a man, but there is more to it I think.  Jesus often taught that the law was so much more than just the surface.   To just not commit adultery wasn’t enough, one had to work on purifying his mind and not even to lust after someone.  To just not commit murder wasn’t enough, one had to work on becoming a person who did not even get angry enough to yell or call someone a name.  I think that’s important to take into mind when we talk about ‘denying Christ.’

Jesus tells clearly in the gospel that if we deny Him, He will deny us in front of the Father.   That is something all of us should be in awe of.   The Father is life itself.   Not to be a part of that life means not to have eternal life.  Heaven.   Peace.  Nirvana.   Whatever one calls it or visualizes it, to be told that if we deny knowing Christ we will not be a part of that!   That’s a scary thought.  That word in Greek,  ὁμολογήσει (homologēsei), means to confess.   Jesus will confess, declare, avow that we belong there before the Father.   I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we have a sacrament called Confession.

A confession is a testimony.   It’s an admittance of something we have done or something we know.   It’s where we are, where we have been, who we have been with, and what we have done.  I really think that last part is very important when we talk about denying Christ.  Simply saying “I am a Christian” or “I believe in Jesus” is just scratching the surface of what it means.   What do you believe?   That’s what is at stake here.  Do you believe Jesus is the third person of the Trinity?  Fully present in the Sacraments?  That He died for your sins?   That He is still here now in a special way, and fully present body, soul, and divinity in the Eucharist?   Do your words thoughts and actions reveal that you believe that?

I believe that every time our actions betray what we believe we are in essence denying Christ.  When I lie to someone, no matter for what reason, I am denying the truth.  Jesus Christ is the way the truth and the life.    When I don’t trust others to the point of anger and fear, do I truly believe that God is providing?   Those moments in which I think thoughts that I know I should not be I not offending the purity of God himself?  When before the world I act like the rest of the world, am I not denying my Christian faith?   To deny the faith, the Church, the teachings of the Apostles… all of these are in essence denying Christ.

Jesus told us that He would send His Holy Spirit to guide us in our ways and remind us of all things that He taught us.   If we were to truly take that gift seriously we would be asking God before every action, every choice, no matter how insignificant it might seem.   More often than not we take even the most serious life decisions into our own hands, asking every person we know what to do, but never consulting God.  Is that not also a denial of Christ?   How can we pretend to be keeping His commandments if we don’t even begin to speak to Him on a regular and frequent basis?

Another way I think that we can deny Christ is by not allowing Him into the world through us.  When we have the opportunity to perform one of those works of mercy listed in Matthew 25 but we refuse for any reason, we have prevented ourselves from being Christ to someone in need.  It is in our inaction that we, the body of Christ, prevent Christ from doing that which that person needs most.   When we do not be the hands, feet, or mouth of Christ, in a world that so needs his touch and healing, it is in that moment that we truly deny Christ.  In that moment that God could have interacted with those He loves, we were the one who blocked His presence and grace.

One more way that I think we can deny Christ, one that I struggle with maybe most of all, is by not allowing ourselves to be the one Christ reaches out to.   It’s easy enough to think that God is calling you to be the one who gives out the dollar to the man in need, the food to the starving, the clothes to the naked, and is called to wash the feet of other.   What if you are called to be the man in need and to go ask for money?  What if your stomach is empty and Christ asks you to humble yourself and receive from your neighbor?  Do you wander spiritually naked in this world without seeking those who can guide you back to His arms?   It is when we refuse the help of others that we also prevent Christ from coming through them into the world to us.

That is a hard thing for me to think about.  I was raised in a place where a man’s worth was directly tied to his ability to provide for his family.   Those who were on welfare or food stamps were looked down upon as lazy or no good.   I spent years working as hard as I could just trying to buy the newest computer or game, all the while making sure I never had to ask for food from anyone.  My mother and father would feed me if I asked them, and often I did eat dinner at their house.  I do remember being so hungry and so cold at one point that I stood in the basement of my home, with no power or water, cooking beans in a can on a wood stove.  I refused to go look for food from someone else.  I wasn’t starving, but I was hungry.  

Now here I am dependent on others for my food, for my home.   My wife works hard and travels when needed to put food on our table.  It took me awhile to get that chip off my shoulder and to realize that my worth doesn’t come from what I can provide.   It comes simply from being made in the image of God.  My wife loves me.  That never ceases to amaze me.   In her actions and words, she brings Christ into this world in the purest way possible.  In her eyes and touch, I feel that love, a love that isn’t conditional.  One that loves me as I am, broken spine and all.  It is a love that encourages me to go out into this world with whatever skills I have to be both ones who offers Christ and accepts Christ in the other.

I think that is the true message here.   That sometimes we are an offering of Christ to the other, and other times we are the one that is being offered Christ through them.  If we take a moment to truly encounter each other on more than a superficial level we will realize that we are both at all moments.   Just as Christ was fully God and fully human, He was both the sacrifice and the one offering the Sacrifice on that wood altar of the Cross.  That is what it means to confess Christ.   To become living examples of the Cross in each and every moment.  Realizing that even in our weakness we can be Christ to someone else, and in the smallest and most truthful ways our own road to Calvary can be offered as a blessing to the world.  It allows the Simons of Cyrene to come out and help carry the load.  By being receptive to God’s provenance we allow the Veronicas of our environment to run out and offer us water and wipe our fast.  Maybe even most powerfully, by dying well (not a popular concept these days), we offer those gathered around us a glimpse of Christ on the Cross that they too might experience conversion similar to that of the Roman Soldier who watched Christ take his last breath.

Are you ready for that awesome responsibility?    Christian discipleship is so much more than just a confession with the lips, it’s a mirror image of the life of Christ, being projected through our lives and into the world that still needs his message more than ever.   Do you hear John asking you today, “Are you the one we are looking for, or should we look for another?”  Like Samuel, when we hear the Lord calling our name in the silence of the night, are we able to say “Speak Lord, your servant is listening”?

His servant and yours,
Brian Mullins

"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer. - Psalm 19:14